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Chinese Characters

What does “can” mean in Chinese?

Can can be usually translated into “huì”, “nénɡ”, and “ké yǐ” in Chinese and all of them are used commonly. But from the recent messages I reveived, it seems that lots of foreign Chinese learners are confuzed by Chinese “can”. Today I will explain can in Chinese pinyin and the differences among all meanings.

1. nénɡ

The first common meaning of “can” in Chinese is nénɡ. On one side, it refers to one’s ability. For example, my little brother can walk now. On the other side, it refers to possibility. For example, can you meet me at the airport tomorrow? In the second situation, can is usually translated into nénɡ as well as huì.

2. huì

The second common meaning of “can” in Chinese is huì. It can be used to refer to one’s ability (the same with nénɡ). For example, can you play piano? Besides, huì refers to possibility as well. That is to say, nénɡ and huì are almost the same.

3. ké yǐ

The third meaning of “can” in Chinese is ké yǐ. It can be used to ask for someone’s permission or permit somebody to do somthing. The key lies in the place where “ké yǐ” is in the sentence. For example:

1). Can I borrow your pen?

In this sentence, can is used to ask for permission. It means “wǒ nénɡ jiè nǐ de bǐ mɑ?”

2). You can live here as long as you like.

In this sentence, can is used to permit somebody to do something. It means “zhǐ yào nǐ yuàn yì , nǐ ké yǐ zhù zài zhè lǐ”.

Above are three meanings of can in Chinese. As long as you read this article carefully, I’s sure that how to say can in Chinese is no longer a confusion to you.

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